UGA Basketball’s 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule is Not A Problem

Yes, the 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule is not as prescribed here, but it will be fine.

UGA Basketball’s 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule has been criticized, but not really scrutinized.  There are no blue bloods in this schedule to attract opposing fans to Stegeman Coliseum and pack the building like the way Kentucky does, which disappoints the casual fan.  After all, there is nothing like that horrible feeling of hearing opposing volley cheers during the middle of a 20 point blowout loss and having UGA fans (the 60% that remained of the 50% in the building) resort to bagging on an opponent’s Football Team in chant form.  It has happened before and it is pathetic.  This being said, the Georgia Basketball schedule is actually challenging and it will provide opportunities for resume enhancing wins.

The 2017-18 Georgia Basketball schedule did not meet the recommendations made by this publication to provide opportunities to make the schedule challenging, give a taste of the alma mater to the growing number of alumni that are not in the State of Georgia, and fit the level of demand for Georgia Basketball.

However, the non-conference slate excluding the Big XII-SEC Challenge game at Kansas State’s “Octagon of Doom” is as follows:

The first three games are warm-up games for the Wooden Legacy at Stegeman Coliseum.

  • USC-Upstate comes off a 17-16 season, they were 8 Deep last season and this season return 5 of that core group.  This team will have 5 true freshmen and minimal experience and size in the frontcourt.  This is an average three point shooting team at best.
  • Bryant comes off a 12-20 season and they will likely have a tough time this season as well.  These Bulldogs hailing from Smithfield, Rhode Island are very inexperienced.  8 of 12 members of this team are in their first or second year.  Two of their top three players from last season transferred out and that is 30.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 steals per game are GONE.  The good news is that they have a guard combination of Adam Grant, Bosko Kostur and leading distributor Ikenna Ndugba.  There’s no frontcourt presence with this team as Bash Townes is just not enough to matchup against Georgia on either end.
  • Texas A&M – Corpus Christi is extremely young.  Throw out everything you knew about them from last season, which was a 24-12 team in the Southland Conference.  Life without Rashawn Thomas is going to be very difficult.  The backcourt of Ehab Amin and Joseph Kilgore should be rather good (especially on defense) and physical, but they are both terrible perimeter shooters as they shot below 30% from three point range last season.  The perimeter shooting hopes of the team lie with Kareem South, who was 36.2% from distance.  The frontcourt is inexperienced, undersized and completely out of their depth.  Appreciate watching Ehab Amin, he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

Enter the Wooden Legacy

Cal State Fullerton is the host of this tournament with the exception of the Finals in Anaheim, California at the Honda Center (correction:  It used to be like this, now it is all at Titan Gym.  This means one thing visible indoor tent areas for all three rounds!).  Georgia has a de facto road game with Cal State Fullerton in the first round.  9 of the 13 scholarship recipients on the roster are Freshmen and Sophomores, this is an inexperienced group.  Senior Arkim Robertson was not a major contributor last season, but the team is going to be very reliant upon Juniors Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad to score.  This is a poor perimeter shooting team (31.1% – 329th in the country) and the loss of Tre’ Coggins to graduation hurts more.  Jackson Rowe is the only credible post threat on this team and he actually is a candidate to breakout in the Big West, he is an undersized Combo Forward with strong rebounding skills.  He has no other established help.

Georgia is expected to beat Cal State Fullerton and the next opponent is highly likely to be San Diego State.  This is not Steve Fisher’s team anymore, there is new a Lead Aztec and he is Brian Dutcher.  Dutcher has been Steve Fisher’s right hand man for decades going back to their time at Ann Arbor when Fisher had great teams at Michigan.  The torch has been passed and the notoriously defensive-minded program has a new Head Coach.  Don’t expect much to change, the offensive style is still going to lack imagination, the defense is going to be intense and the pace is going to be rather slow.  This team has some familiar names from other programs:  Max Hoetzel (Indiana transfer), Montaque Gill-Caesar (Missouri transfer), Devin Watson (San Francisco transfer) and Kameron Rooks (California transfer).  The majority of the major producers on the floor both defensively and offensively return.  Zylan Cheatham was the biggest loss for the roster, but this is not going to be too significant.  This is another BAD perimeter shooting team and even with a loaded perimeter when it comes to scoring talent, this is not a good three point shooting team.  Jeremy Hemsley and Malik Pope are the best perimeter threats for this team.  Physicality in the paint could be an issue with this team as well.

If Georgia gets through San Diego State, Saint Mary’s awaits a rematch from the 2016 NIT Second Round.  Remember this game?  Saint Mary’s is more experienced and have even greater chemistry this season, which makes their unselfish, precision set-oriented offense even more dangerous.  Jock Landale, Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar and Evan Fitzner are back.  They also added a graduate transfer to aid in the backcourt, Cullen Neal.  Saint Mary’s is a nightmarish team because of their style of play and incredible efficient inside and out.  The biggest loss was Joe Rahon’s passing ability and Cullen Neal could make up for it, he more than makes up for the three point shooting.  Expect a lot of excitement on November 26 surrounding the Landale-Maten matchup if this game takes place.  Saint Mary’s has to show that they can knock off Gonzaga to become a bracket darling come March.

Make or Break December

Before the showdown in Lexington on New Year’s Eve, there are five big clashes to come against challenging opponents.

Georgia visits the Bradley Center in Milwaukee to take on Marquette.  Marquette crushed an undisciplined Georgia team last season at Stegeman Coliseum and this season will bring their wide-open perimeter oriented style of play with them once again.  This is a must-win game for both teams.  Key Seniors from last season JaJuan Johnson, Luke Fischer and Katin Reinhardt graduated and now a much less experienced group of Golden Eagles will carry this team.  Steve Wojciechowski (corrected because some reason Mike Wojciechowski, the cinematographer was on the mind) is not afraid to play Freshmen and Theo John and Jamal Cain could make an instant impact much like the way Sam Hauser and Markus Howard did last season.  The big question-mark is the defense as it could be worse, but the team’s ability to shoot this season is going to be wild.  Rowsey, Hauser and Howard are all lethal.  Against this Georgia backcourt, they are going to be scary.

No, that’s not a misprint.  Markus Howard really did shoot 54.7% from three point range.

Winthrop does not have Keon Johnson anymore, which means that Pat Kelsey who accepted the UMass Head Coaching job and then reneged to go back to Rock Hill, South Carolina, is going to have to show that he can win without the do-it-all Mighty Mouse Point Guard.  Winthrop strangely did not press in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and Kelsey’s tentativeness and lack of aggression hurt his stock as far as moving up to a High Major program.  Kelsey is a Skip Prosser protege and he did not coach like it against Butler.  Xavier Cooks returns and so do the Broman Brothers, but the rest of this team is largely a mystery and Winthrop’s window appears to have closed.  This is not the same Winthrop team as last season, but if Kelsey can get Winthrop back into the NCAA Tournament, he is going to bolt for a High Major as performing this feat would be more impressive than last season.  The frontcourt is lacking outside of the undersized Cooks and without a shotblocker like Duby Okeke, they may have a very difficult time in Athens.

UMass presents an opportunity for Mark Fox to redeem himself against Matt McCall, albeit the rosters are different and McCall arguably had a better team in Chattanooga than he does now.  This game will be played in Amherst, which is an hour north of Hartford, Connecticut.  Perhaps inconveniently, this game is being played in the middle of UMass-Amherst’s Final Exams.

McCall is inheriting a much less talented team than he had in his past two seasons at Chattanooga.  It is a patchwork team that is going to hampered by depth issues in Year 1.  Jaylen Brantley comes over as a Graduate Transfer from Maryland to be a steady hand at Point Guard, but he never started a game for the Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins.  Brantley has a lot of responsibility for a team lacking so much depth at Point Guard.  LuWane Pipkins is not a strong shooter, but he can pick pockets averaging 1.9 steals per game.  If anyone could thrive under Matt McCall, it may be Pipkins due to the aggressiveness of McCall’s pressing defense.  Rashaan Holloway is the top frontcourt threat for this team, he is a 6’11” 310 pound beast in the paint.  How Holloway adapts to McCall’s faster pace of play is a bit of a mystery at this time.  Holloway is currently suffering a thumb injury and will not be back until likely Thanksgiving.  Holloway gets his shot attempts in the restricted arc, nearly 85% of them last season were in this area.  Curiously, he was only 68.7% shooting in this area, which is surprising when considering his massive frame and ability to bully undersized opposition.  Holloway is said to be in much improved shape compared to last season and he will need to be in better shape because of McCall’s system and the team only being able to play nine scholarship student-athletes.

Georgia Tech

Year 2 of Josh Pastner’s run at Georgia Tech carries expectations of building upon a surprising first season.  There were ups and downs for Georgia Tech last season, but avenging an absolutely humiliating loss at McCamish Pavilion on National Television to Georgia is going to still be difficult.  Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson and Ben Lammers return for the Yellow Jackets, but what is noticeable is how this season’s team may have similar struggles as last season.  Perimeter shooting is the most obvious issue that Georgia Tech will need to address.  Josh Okogie is the best shooter they have, arguably, he is the best player they have.  Okogie literally does everything and he proved himself to be quite a breakout player in the ACC as a Freshman.  Justin Moore emerged at Point Guard and then faded, but he was terrible shooting from the perimeter.  In order for Georgia Tech to be respected on offense, there needs to be greater balance inside and out, Pastner is hoping he gets that from Curtis Haywood II and Evan Cole.  Pastner needs his newcomers to step up in the worst way.

Ben Lammers is going to carry the frontcourt and he was a major surprise last season for Georgia Tech.  Lammers is going to try to follow up a season where he was nearly a double-double every game.  Lammers was the interior presence for Georgia Tech and he was a good one, averaging 3.4 blocks per game.

Their hope is that Evan Cole can effectively replace Quinton Stephens, which would make a big difference for their outlook going forward.  Evan Cole is very similar to Stephens, but the question is whether he has the same success at Georgia Tech.

Josh Pastner showed the willingness to throw everything schematically at opponents to win last season, which made Georgia Tech a challenging and unpredictable foe.  Pastner is used to having more talent on his team and he will need to be creative to get the most out of his team this season.  Basically, it is a redux from last season, but with greater familiarity.

The Point Guard spot is going to be a competition between Justin Moore and Freshman Jose Alvarado.  It’s always unsettling when there’s uncertainty at Point Guard between a Sophomore and a Freshman.

Georgia Tech lacks depth and direction.  Pastner’s crew should have a greater sense of identity after Finals Week, but it is still a patchwork roster and Pastner is still going to be feeling things out.  When Georgia Tech faces Georgia, it should likely be a case of the team with the better backcourt play likely coming out of Stegeman Coliseum triumphant in this late December clash.

Finally, Georgia gets that home-and-home with Temple.

UGA has a growing alumni base in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley in general.  This is a series that is a long time coming and it starts in Athens on December 22.  Next season, the two schools meet up at the Liacouras Center.

Much of Temple’s production from last season returns for Fran Dunphy.  The only major loss from last season’s team was Daniel Dingle, who graduated.  Temple’s depth should be improved and Dunphy will get a better defensive output from his team this upcoming season.  Temple’s defense will likely be a return to 2015-16 sort of efficiency rather than last season’s mess.  Many of the issues defensively were due to inexperience.

Alani Moore, Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston Jr. were all rather inexperienced and they grew last season into major producers.  Josh Brown returns after an injury-marred season (achilles tendon injury) and he is expected to be ready in November.  Brown is going to provide leadership as a 5th year Senior, he was a part of Temple’s NCAA Tournament Team in 2015-16.

Temple is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament once again after they and much of the AAC (especially UConn) had an extremely poor showing in the 2016-17 Season.  Temple gets back by getting more consistency out of Obi Enechionya in the frontcourt, he had an extremely strong start to the season and then struggled a bit.  Enechionya is a tough matchup due to his versatility, he is a 6’10” 225 pound Combo Forward who was able to shoot 38.5% from three point range.  The backcourt has depth and slightly above average shooting capability.

Temple is very high on their four incoming Freshmen and if the Owls were able to get a lot last season out of their 2016 Class, which was not as heralded as this one, they should be able to get even more from the Class of 2017.

Temple is a tough matchup because Fran Dunphy is an experienced coach with a team that has quality experience and possibly even more skill and athleticism along the perimeter.  Temple is an NCAA Tournament team if they can improve their frontcourt defense and that may depend upon Damion Moore and Ernest Aflakpui’s improvement.  Temple is a very difficult draw due to their backcourt talent (which could be positions 1 through 4), but the frontcourt depth and development is the concern.

Temple is the sleeper in the AAC, they simply were not experienced enough last season.  This season is a different story and if everyone stays healthy, this matchup in Athens is going to be a BIG TEST.

2017-18 is Difficult to Project

Who’s going to remain in their jobs?  Which student-athletes will not be able to play?  Could games end up forfeited?  Have any Athletic Departments committed Obstruction of Justice in reaction to the FBI Investigation?  Nobody knows how deep the FBI wants to go with their investigation and there’s more to be uncovered.

The non-conference schedule Mark Fox put together has only one program who was involved in any way withe FBI Investigation, San Diego State.  San Diego State remains on the periphery at this time.

The main tests for Georgia are San Diego State, a presumed matchup with Saint Mary’s, road games at Marquette and UMass, and home games against Georgia Tech and Temple.  It will suffice as far as difficulty is concerned.  UGA is providing great opportunities for alumni in Southern California, Milwaukee, Chicago and New England to see their alma mater in action.  The prescribed schedule would do more to address the changing geographic preferences of UGA Alumni, but this will do.  Overall, Georgia has six home non-conference games and six non-conference games away from Stegeman Coliseum.  To make the NCAA Tournament, Georgia (like other programs) has to win meaningful non-conference games away from Stegeman Coliseum.

Mark Fox has to put his team in a position to win and adjust for the talent that he has.  The tough schedules have never screwed Georgia, Mark Fox’s nonsensical game plans have screwed Georgia.